At almost 300 pounds, you carry more than extra weight. You carry a reason to be detached from, dissociated with and discriminated against. Although not as obvious as a disability or a racial identity, students Natalie Thomas and Natali Rhymes, found people definitely discriminate based on weight.
“It’s in everything I do,” said Thomas, a junior who started gaining weight at 9 years old. From going to the gym, shopping or sitting in a desk in class, Thomas said she has been made to feel self-conscious about her size.
“When I go to the gym, people look at me as if to say, ‘What is that fat girl doing here?'” she said. “Well, if I want to lose weight this is the only way that I am going to get there.”
Public dining experiences are no better. Thomas said she became a ‘closet eater’ because of the attitude she sensed from people when she ate in public.
“People always want to say that if overweight people stopped eating they wouldn’t be as big as they are. Well, we have to eat too!” she said.
Senior Natali Rhymes lived most of her life with the same type of discrimination until losing nearly 100 pounds. Ironically, the weight loss not only brought a sense of joy but also resentment.
“I hated that people started treating me different,” she said, “because I was the same person on the inside that I had always been.”
Rhymes said once the weight came off, so did people’s negative attitudes toward her. Due to her weight loss, Rhymes began to experience things that were never an option for her before like being nominated for Homecoming Queen and dating regularly.
“When guys started opening doors for me I was shocked,” she said.
Both Thomas and Rhymes agree that the males’ perspective of large women is different and discriminatory.
When you are overweight you are either the best friend or the girl who is perceived as an easy sex partner, rarely an in-between,” said both Thomas and Rhymes.
Rhymes recalls having a crush on a particular guy all through high school and never being seen by him as more than a friend.
After losing about 60 pounds and returning home for a weekend, he treated her differently and asked her on a date.
“It felt good to turn him down,” she said.
In addition to different treatment from her peer group, Rhymes experienced on-the-job discrimination because of her 260-pound frame.
Sadly enough, she realizes her weight loss will benefit her in her job search after graduation.
This comes from her experience with job discrimination based on her size. Rhymes was once employed at a company for approximately six months when she was denied a job promotion that would normally have been passed down to her. She later was assigned to train the person who would be her superior.
Naturally frustrated and confused, Rhymes found out the reason she had not gotten promoted was solely based on her size. She was told her boss didn’t know if she could get around and do what she needed to do because “Natali is a big girl.”
Although jobs and relationships are affected, “the little things” seem to stick out the most for both ladies.
Thomas said not being able to shop at the same stores as her friends is always discouraging.
“My friends will go into 5-7-9 or Wet Seal to buy clothes, and all I can do is look at the accessories,” she said. “I usually end up going to Lane Bryant by myself.”
Rhymes more than understands and said she used to struggle with the same shopping dilemma before losing the weight.
“Now I can go into any store and try on a pair of jeans, something that so many people take for granted,” Rhymes said.
These types of activities constantly single out overweight people only create an atmosphere for negative comments.
Although some people may feel these negative and derogatory comments will help overweight people lose weight, both Thomas and Rhymes disagree.
In this instance Rhymes equated weight to drug abuse.
“If you constantly call a drug abuser a druggie and a junkie, that is not going to give him or her any inspiration to stop abusing drugs,” she said.
“It only makes the person feel worse and become more depressed,” said Thomas
Thomas can still recall negative comments made by family members as a young child. She has not become immune to the negative comments and discrimination she has experienced over the last 10 years, but “it affects me more now,” she said.
“Some people will never be able to see past my weight, but I know that I am beautiful, and that is what I focus on,” she said.
Dealing with self-imaging and gaining control of her life is what sparked Rhymes to start Starting Together Achieving Resident Success, an organization geared toward helping student maintain a healthy a well-rounded lifestyle.
Meetings are every Wednesday in the Belvin Lobby at 8 p.m. Next Wednesday’s meeting will feature Dr. Bernice Strauss discussing depression and self-esteem.
Thomas and Rhymes agree although weight discrimination is based on a flexible physical feature, unlike your skin color, it is not always easy to change, and those who are overweight do not deserve unfair treatment.